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Does It Really Work?
According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the reason that positive reinforcement in the workplace works so well is simply because people are willing to work hard when they get something out of it. Of course, unless you are managing a group of volunteers, your team receives a paycheck for their efforts. Sometimes, though, a little more is required. When there is downsizing, the workload is increased or your team experience some other blow that causes morale to dip, some pats on the back can make all the difference. Similarly, when you have specific team members who have the skills and knowledge, but seem to be lacking in motivation, encouraging them often works better than threats, warnings and other negative coercion.
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Encourage Good Employees to Go the Extra Mile
You are fortunate to have some stellar employees who always produce exemplary work in the time frame set before them, but you need to ask them to put in a little extra time and effort for a while. On the other hand, perhaps you have a handful of staff members whose work is always decent, but you know that if you could only motivate them to exert a little more effort their performance would be amazing. How can you cultivate a good team to make it a great one?
Rather than taking a negative approach and stating that they are not giving enough or working quickly enough, challenge these employees to set some lofty goals. Assure them that you have complete faith in them as individuals and as a team. Let them know that you would not ask them to reach higher if you did not believe they were up to the task.
In addition, it is vital that these goals are attainable and measurable. Telling your team what a great job they are doing and then simply asking for "more" is neither realistic nor beneficial. Allow them to focus on one or two specific objectives within a certain time frame. Maintain motivation by spotting and commenting on accomplishments along the way, and acknowledge goals successfully met in a big way.
Take the time to recognize employees individually, as well. Meet one on one with those that you wish to encourage, naming specific skills, talents and achievements of each team member. Making it personal helps employees feel as though they truly matter and that you see them for who they are, not as simply a job title.
Finally, make sure that you arm your staff with the tools they need to undertake the tasks at hand. Even the strongest fighter needs training, proper nourishment and a good pair of gloves before stepping into the ring. All of the positive reinforcement in the world will not matter if you don't provide the necessary instruments for the job.
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Inspire a Change in Attitude and Behavior
Chances are good that, from time to time, you will need to motivate a less-than-model employee to step it up and make some changes. Positive reinforcement can help in these cases as well.
Don't wait until one employee's poor attitude or lack of work ethic has taken its toll on your entire team. Address it immediately, beginning with a positive note. Look for something positive about the team member's performance and start there. When you approach someone with a compliment or kudos, you will have his attention and he will view your words in a positive light. Make sure your praise has merit, or the employee will probably not take what you say to heart.
Once you have commended the team member, bring up the undesirable behavior in a way that shows concern rather than criticism. For instance, if an employee typically produces good work but his desk -- which clients visit -- is perpetually messy, you might let him know that you are worried that clients will not realize how beneficial his efforts might be to them because they are distracted by the clutter. You can also offer help in the form of advice, tools or even hands-on assistance. By offering praise and displaying a sense of camaraderie, the employee is much likelier to want to make the changes addressed.
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When to Change Your Approach
While it is certainly worth trying positive reinforcement in the workplace as your go-to method for change and improvement, there may be times when you must resort to a different method. Once you have made several attempts to motivate an employee to make the necessary modifications, provided ample training and resources, and offered assistance in a variety of ways, you should consider using a more negative tack. If praise and rewards, simply are not doing the trick, warn of and implement consequences and penalties. You may even have to let someone go when all other attempts fail.